Pakistan

Almost seven years after Naila Farhat, 20, became another victim of an acid throwing attack by a spurned suitor, she is finally seeing more vigorous efforts toward the passage of a law seeking to amend existing legislation to reinforce protection of women against violent assaults. Farhat is the first to admit, though, that beneath her physical scars is a smoldering anger that refuses to be pacified until she has exacted vengeance against her violators. 

A brutal assault on Pakistan’s Ahmadi community on 28 May has left them feeling more vulnerable than ever before. Armed assailants laid siege to two mosques in Lahore, capital of Punjab Province, where Ahmadis were praying and killed at least 80 people. The attack has been described by community leaders, who put the death toll at 93 with 100 injured, as the worst ever faced in the group’s 121-year history. Dozens of victims still lie injured in Lahore hospitals, some in a critical state. “Some are very badly injured, but we will not give in and we have not lost strength,” Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a spokesperson for the Ahmadi community in Lahore, told IRIN. 

Last week, three Pakistani sisters, age 20, 16, and 14, had their lives irrevocably changed. As they walked from Kalat city to Pandarani village in the Baluchistan province, two motorcyclists threw acid on them, causing severe burns over their faces and bodies. Two weeks earlier, two sisters in the same province suffered the same attack—and they are only 11 and 13 years old. Their crimes? Not wearing hijabs and traveling unaccompanied by men. The Baloch Ghaeratmand Group, which was until recently unknown in the province, circulated a pamphlet in April that warned, “Acid will be thrown on the faces of women and girls who step out of their houses without covering their faces… People who fail to comply with these orders will themselves be responsible for the consequences.” 

Feminist concern about the violation of women’s rights by male clerics in Muslim countries is slowly producing a response from some states. At the same time, rights activists are increasingly reporting examples of clerics who are standing up for women’s rights. This isn’t about the progressive male and female scholars that are increasingly visible in the Muslim world, nor about the occasional female imam; it’s about male preachers on the streets and in the villages.

I have two master's degrees from Columbia, keep the h silent in haute couture (you'd be surprised at how few Pakistanis like me do so), and know to scour the fine print before I sign anything. But I scrawled my signature on the most important contract of my life without reading a word. And, as I later found out, many of my also well-educated female friends did the same. Why do Pakistani women agree to marriage contracts without scrutinizing them first and making sure they won't be sorry later, asks Ayesha Nasir?

The Urdu expression `chaddar aur chardawari’ is often quoted in Pakistan to suggest that women are safest under their shawl (`chaddar’) and within the four walls (`chardawari’) of their home. This may hold true for many women, but for some, such as 25-year-old Naseeba Bibi, it could not be further from the truth. Naseeba said she had suffered continual abuse from her husband since they got married six years ago in Kasur, about 55km southeast of Lahore, Punjab Province.

Dr Shams Hassan Faruqi sits amid his rocks and geological records, shakes his bearded head and stares at me. "I strongly doubt if the children are alive," he says. "Probably, they have expired." He says this in a strange way, mournful but resigned, yet somehow he seems oddly unmoved. As a witness, supposedly, to the mysterious 2008 re-appearance of Aafia Siddiqui – the "most wanted woman in the world", according to former US attorney general John Ashcroft – I guess this 73-year-old Pakistani geologist is used to the limelight. But the children, I ask him again. What happened to the children?

We have recently received information from Asian Human Rights Commission that a tribal leader of Sindh province has held three women and two children in his private jail and one woman has been continuously raped for more than three years. She has had two children whilst in custody. The Sindh High Court and the provincial police have been unable to recover the five persons from his jail. The tribal leader held a Jirga, a parallel judicial system of feudal society announcing the murder of one of the men. This man and his wife were declared as Karo (black male) and Kari (black women).

Girls in Swat District, northwestern Pakistan, have gone back to school, and most women who had been prevented from working have returned to work, but people are still fearful. "We worry the Taliban will return and the persecution will start again. In every neighbourhood there are people who are linked to the militants and who keep an eye on the activities of us women," Sumira Bibi, 20, who works at a cosmetics factory, told IRIN in Mingora, Swat's main town. According to the government's National Commission on the Status of Women, there were 1,000-1,200 women factory workers in Mingora before the Taliban takeover in 2009. It is unknown how many have returned to work. Tens of thousands of civilians were displaced from Swat in the spring and summer of 2009 due to intense fighting between government forces and Taliban militants. Most returned after the army regained control in July. (See Swat timeline)

The fabric of Pakistani society, in general, seems to be afflicted with hypocrisy. At a recent seminar organised by the Aurat Foundation and the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), titled ‘Crimes in the name of honour and parallel legal system,’ representatives from various political parties were invited to provide input about what they believed was the solution to honour killings.

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